Do you ever wonder what your puppy is thinking as he explores his big new world? What would possess them to dig through the garbage or eat your new leather shoes? And like most of us, do you find it impossible to get angry when they turn that look of innocent love and adoration on you?
This behavior baffles and frustrates the most conscientious of dog owners, and rightfully so. This adorable ball of fur is now a member of your family and you want to trust that she will not destroy your belongings and your home, and that she will be a gentle loving companion for your children.
In order to achieve this goal, you have to be in control of your puppy at all times and that requires a lot of time and effort on your part. But the results are certainly worth it.
She must be taught appropriate behavior from the moment she enters your life. She must be trained to obey you, she must learn appropriate behavior around people and other animals, and she must learn the difference between a chew toy and your favorite down comforter.
These lessons need to be taught in a calm, gentle, and consistent manner. The reward for all of this hard work is a gentle, well-behaved dog that is a joy for you and other people to be around.
You are the alpha leader
While we will never understand certain behaviors of dogs, such as why they chase their tail, there has been much research into a dog’s relationships. Wild dogs, such as wolves, live in packs, each member having their own role in the welfare of the group. Wild dogs also have a strict hierarchy that is observed, from the leader, known as the alpha dog, down to the babies.
In your dog’s mind, you and other family members are part of her pack. If you do not establish yourself as “alpha” immediately, an aggressive puppy may take over the pack. This can result in an unruly, dangerous dog.
With no limits or boundaries, she can pester you continuously for treats, climb all over the furniture, drag you down the sidewalk on walks and, in a worst case scenario, may become aggressive as she gets older, guarding her food and her perceived “territory” from intruders (including you and your family), which could escalate into biting.
While some trainers advocate physical intimidation to establish dominance, such as flipping a dog over to expose their most vulnerable part–their belly–or even biting their muzzle; there are much kindler and gentler ways to do this which will accomplish the same goals without frightening the dog and/or promoting aggression.
Most dogs are quite happy to have a defined leader; this promotes a feeling of security by knowing that someone is there to tell them what to do and it helps them gain confidence as they learn. A good pack leader projects strength by using a calm, steady voice at all times, remaining calm in situations that the dog finds unsettling and by rewarding good behavior.
A good starting point is to teach your dog to sit and lie down. This submissive posture commanded by you reinforces your dominance in her life. If you have trouble getting your leadership established, talk to your veterinarian or an animal behaviorist about special exercises that allow you to establish yourself as alpha leader without aggression.
Socialization in an extremely important part of your puppy’s life, one that lays the foundation for much of her future behavior.
Puppies are like sponges–they absorb an amazing amount of crucial information about their world. They learn that the sound of the can opener means food or that the opening of the back door means playtime.
While puppies are leaning many things on their own, the pet owner’s job is to train the puppy to bond with people as well as other animals and to help them learn to be comfortable in unfamiliar situations. This one small bit of training is one of the most important for your dog. The better she is able to cope in a strange situation or around unfamiliar people and animals, the less likely she is to become defensive and attack another animal or person in a difficult situation.
Your breeder should have started the socialization process when your puppy was three to four weeks old. The earlier you begin, the better for the puppy. If your puppy has not received any socialization when you get her, you might have a long, uphill battle when she arrives in your home. But if you get her young enough, usually before twelve weeks, you will still have time to give her plenty of new, happy experiences.
The first step is to establish a bond between her and your family. Spend plenty of time with her, playing, grooming, petting, feeding, and just talking in a calm quiet voice. Let her see that she can depend on you for food, affection, and calm, gentle leadership.
Once your puppy feels secure with you and your family and she has received all of her vaccinations, it’s time to introduce her to the big, wide world outside of your house. Take her everywhere you can–to the park, visiting friends and relatives, shopping in dog-friendly stores; and give her plenty of opportunities to meet friendly people and well-socialized dogs.
Make the necessary trips to the veterinarian fun for her, making sure she receives plenty of attention from you and the staff. Introduce her to children who know how to behave around dogs and make sure that all of her interactions, especially with children, are supervised.
If your puppy acts nervous when she finds herself in a strange situation, or exhibits aggression at a strange dog, do not scold her. Raising your voice only increases her tension. On the other hand, if you comfort her, she learns that she can get a lot of attention from you whenever she reacts in a frightened or aggressive manner to new situations.
The best way to handle it is to distract her in some manner that does not involve food. Offer her a favorite toy or a chew stick or initiate a favorite game. When she becomes absorbed in the distraction and ignores the scary situation, shower her with praise. She’ll soon learn new situations mean fun and play for her and she will be well on her way to becoming a proper little socialite with the tools she needs to cope with any situation.
Keep training positive
Most dog owners focus on the negatives during puppy training. They don’t want the puppy to potty on the floor, they don’t want her to chew or jump up on the furniture, they don’t want her jumping on visitors. This can be confusing to a puppy.
Try looking at her life through her eyes. Imagine you’re a puppy and you’ve just spent a day at home all alone. You found some pretty neat stuff to keep you busy, like those great-smelling things your person wears on their feet and the really great toys in that big can in the kitchen that you spread all over the house so that your owners could see them too.
When you wake up from your nap, you rush to meet your family at the door, eager to share your day with them. Instead of petting and affection, they begin yelling at you. Don’t they want you to meet them at the door?
The puppy has no idea you’re angry about the mess. They live in the here and now, so they assume they’re being punished for going to the door.
The best way to prevent unwanted behavior is to offer a positive alternative to the unwanted action. Teach her what response you want from her. If she starts doing the potty dance, circling around and sniffing the floor, take her outside right away. Keep a close watch on her and as soon as she relieves herself, reward her with praise or a treat. Now she is learning that going outside to potty is a good thing.
If you catch her chewing on something inappropriate, remove it and offer her one of her own toys. (Do not give a puppy an old sock as a toy. They cannot tell the difference between an old sock and a new one.) When she’s chewing on one of her own toys, reward her.
Rewarding good behavior and keeping your dog distracted from unwanted behaviors is the key to effective training. Watch for these good behaviors, such as sitting down in front of you instead of jumping on you, and reward her with treats, praise, or special attention from you.
Proper training evolves over time and it takes commitment from the entire family. Everyone must agree to respond in the same manner to any behavior, good or bad.
Remember, good training takes persistence and patience. Your puppy will make some mistakes and she may destroy some of your belongings as she learns, but remember that she’s eager to please you. She only needs your guidance, attention and a strong dose of love to become the wonderful, well behaved dog you know she can be.
Source: Adapted from the American Animal Hospital Association